Education Expert Michelle Rhee Criticized for Speaking at Education-Related Conference


In June, former D.C. school chief Michelle Rhee will speak at a conference of for-profit colleges in Las Vegas.

There are a lot of perfectly good reasons to talk smack about the record of for-profit schools—many suffer from low graduation rates and high debt burdens, nearly all are powered by billions of taxpayer dollars.

But the Washington Monthly has gone into full panty-bunching red alert over former public official and current head of an advocacy organization accepting a speaking gig. The thrust of the argument seems to be that this is the smoking gun we have all been waiting for: Rhee, an education reformer, is willing take money to tell a bunch of other people who work in the same industry what she thinks. Which is this, by the way:

I plan to tell the for-profit colleges that they need to do a better job of making sure their students are getting a good education, are graduating with meaningful degrees, and are able to do so without being saddled with unreasonable debt.

But the problems aren't just academic. Some of these schools seem to be engaged in downright malicious behavior, cravenly taking advantage of students trying to get a better education and a better job. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office in 2010 looked into recruiting practices at 15 for-profit colleges and found outright cases of fraud at four. Moreover, they found that officials at every single one of the colleges investigated lied or misrepresented the programs offered in order to convince students to enroll. That's wrong, and I plan to tell them so. These schools need to focus on getting the best outcomes for their students—the people relying on and trusting these schools to provide a high-quality education.

And here's the supposed gotcha, summed up by David Halperin:

"She staked her career on the concept of shutting down underperforming, bad schools," Halperin writes. "And now she will address a room full of them."

She has spent her career addressing rooms full of underperforming bad schools—most of them in her jurisdiction in D.C.—because she had some (good) ideas about how to make them better. The same will presumably be true in Vegas.

More me on Rhee.